OK, so today I picked up New Scientist, because I’m interested in gravity, and there was a fairly basic bit on it in there. Nothing very exciting I did not know as it turned out, but New Scientist is always worth a read anyway. There was an article on how engineers form a disproportionate number of rightist and Islamic terrorists – well I hardly thought this was news, the only profile I ever saw for a religious terror suspect a few years back in a book on terrorism said exactly the same thing as this new research. Disaffected intelligent and well educated people tend to blow things up? No surprise there! I could have told you that… Anyway, I’m not planning to blow anything up, but I strongly suspect that massive social injustice, lack of opportunity and economic disempowerment, poverty to the point where you have no choices left to make at all, but just survive, lead to terrorism. No that is not a confession. 🙂
Seriously though, if you face serious injustice, serious lack of ability to do anything much with your life and yet see people enjoying vastly superior lifestyles, you might get annoyed – especially if your kids are dying, or you lack basic clean water while others jet ski and bask on beaches? I think the root of terrorism is human nature and anger at injustice. That’s not to say it always is – we get ideologically driven super-rich terrorists, and political types, and I expect religious ones – but it does strike me that Westerners often fail to reflect on atrocities, massacres and injustices that create militants. I’m guessing it’s easier to be complacent and not want to kill anyone if you are comfortable, not hungry, and your friends are not the victims of genocide. Frustration, resentment, poverty – coupled with intelligence and technology, and you have the capacity for people to lash out in frighteningly destructive ways. Not a legitimate form of protest now, but people in pain react irrationally… Want to beat terrorism? Provide educational, social and economic justice maybe?
Anyhow, while the actual article was not exciting — it is well written, the research well formulated, but hardly going to help profile future terrorists especially given that leftists ones aren’t engineers anyway, so it’s a bit limited in that way, the Editorial interested me more, and brought my thoughts back to something I planned to write on anyway. The Editorial suggests some engineers may dislike ambiguity, and want a clockwork well ordered world, and lash out when it is not so, adopting terrorist tactics. The key bit here to me is “dislike ambiguity”, because as long term readers of my writings on the JREF and Dawkins forum will know, that si exactly the trait I noted in many “New Atheists” and sceptics. One can not generalize – I know a good few New Atheists with a great appreciation and understanding of ambiguity, and there is one literary critic on the Dawkins forum who could certainly teach me a thing or two about the notion – I did read Seven Types of Ambiguity, but that was many, many years ago. However the very literalist/concrete reading and failure to understand the symbolic nature of religious language one comes across on both forums, coupled with a dislike of mystery and the unexplained – well except as a research challenge, an attitude I heartily share – made me propose that actually people with strong ideological beliefs may simply be less able to process or deal with “insufficient data” or ambiguous concepts. “woo” sometimes seems to be any mysterious or hard to explain concept that threatens an ordered mechanistic worldview. Wonder hwo they deal with gambling, chance and fate? Denying Free Will and embracing materialist determism is one way I guess. 🙂
I actually have been trying to get a research methodology together for this – my divorce from the University of Gloucestershire, an institution with which I have no connection at all now – makes it harder, and the very notion of ambiguity appears to have been ignored in the psychology journals. I was willing to self fund, but the person I hoped to collaborate with on my research in to belief structures and ambiguity has vanished, or is not returning my calls, so I guess I’m going to have to pursue this alone.I don’t want to do a PhD on it – just an exploratory paper. 🙂 I’m not interested in finding terrorists – I actually think it has no useful potential there for reasons outlined in New Scientist – but I am sure as hell interested in what makes people adopt their religious worldview, or active anti-religious worldview. Sure i can see where Dawkins is coming from – he sees Natural Selection, a beautiful and useful idea, as invalidating religious thinking. No, it invalidates forms of Latitudinarian natural theology common in the 18th century — if most religious believers think like Paley or Newton, I have yet to notice it!
Still, I’m interested in the relationship between ability to cope with ambiguity, new ideas and the authoritarian personality. I might try and retrieve Male Fantasies: Women, Flood, Bodies, History from DC, a classic study of Nazi masculinity and psychology. I always wondered if it influenced Andrew (definitely NOT a Nazi) Eldritch when he wrote the Sisters of Mercy album Floodland – he reads widely and is extremely intelligent and articulate, and it would not surprise me at all. IF I had access to a JSTOR, Athens or other journal database i’d search for the literature on ambiguity – as I may have hinted, I know it mainly from Lit. Crit (which I only really dabble in) but the concept strikes me as extremely important. Or maybe I’m just pleased because someone at New Scientist is clearly thinking along the same lines that I have been arguing?
All this really shows that I should actually get on with applying to MacDonalds for a job, and that I think too much, but hey, there must be a way of devising a scale that deals with how people deal with this process of ambiguity. It’s a bit outside of my usual parapsychological interests, but all the same I think it really could bode well for research,a nd my reading from Lacan to Eysenck has never really turned up anything on this issue. Attachment Theory does not say much about it, but the old concept of “fuzzy boundaries” we used to use in psychiatric nursing may well impact here. Hrmmm, maybe I should ask Ian Hume – maybe the concept is already well explored?
Anyway I have whittered on enough for one day. Hope everyone well, and I’ll return to moaning about my life in my next post I expect! Still if anyone fancies helping devise a decent experimental exploration of the concept of ambiguity in self perceptions of belief, do drop me a line…
all the best